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Can Workers at a Small Business Unionize?

October 6, 2023

Who can and cannot start a union can feel like murky waters–the truth is, most professions will allow you to start a union. In fact, even the ones that don’t allow for unions are trying to change that as well (football players and reality TV cast members, for example). So, what professions cannot unionize? If you are a manager or supervisor, you cannot start a union or join one, as it’s a conflict of interest.

Only employees are allowed to form a union, and the size of the business doesn’t matter. Unions exist as a way for employees to collectively bargain with employers to protect their rights in the workplace, and managers and supervisors do not qualify as employees. 

Starting a union and maintaining active membership is now easier than ever with tools from ElectionBuddy, including resources to support online voting for unions, both new and established. But what does it take to get a union formed and off the ground? In this article, we’ll outline the steps necessary for forming a union, including who can start one!

Starting a Union

The majority of employees and industries allow for the formation of unions. Granted that the union is formed appropriately, there isn’t anything business leaders can do to stop a union from forming. 

Collective bargaining is protected by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), so even if it feels awkward starting a union within a small business, your rights as an employee can be protected. Firing or reprimanding employees for attempting to exercise labor rights can lead to employment discrimination or wrongful termination lawsuits.

Who Can Form a Union?

We know that employees can form a union, but some industries have exceptions. For instance, agricultural and domestic services workers are not typically able to unionize due to the nature of their work. Independent contractors, managers, and supervisors are all roles that do not qualify for union benefits.

In some situations, the NLRB has found that interns and unpaid workers are able to form unions. Generally speaking, most employees can form a union.

What Do You Need to Start a Union?

In order to start a union, employees must connect with one another about shared goals or interests that the union could provide. After all, a union isn’t a union if it’s just one employee advocating for their own rights. Discuss with fellow employees about wages, benefits, and working conditions to verify that they share the same concerns.

The next step is to connect with a union organizer. These professionals understand the steps necessary to negotiate contracts and get set up. Union organizers will assist in building a committee for your union. A committee is a key group of leaders at the workplace who are the most committed to organizing a union.

Once employees are aware that a union is forming, union organizers (including committee members) will offer support cards for other employees to sign. These cards declare that employees want to start a union and have paired with organizers to negotiate better wages, benefits, and more.

After the majority of the employees have signed union support cards, they are submitted to the NLRB to request a union election. The NLRB will decide on an election date and will determine who is allowed to vote. If the majority of the employees vote ‘yes’ at this election, the employer must now recognize the union during bargaining moving forward.

With the union formed, it’s time to negotiate the first contract. Voting is an integral part of any decisions made within a union, and ensuring your votes are accurate, secure, and easy to complete can keep your union strong. ElectionBuddy has the tools to make voting simple and accessible for all employees, including resources for officer elections, contract ratifications, and meeting resolutions.

Wrapping Up

Any employee can start a union, and it doesn’t matter on the size or scale of the business. It’s important to keep in mind the legal definition of an employee. Managers,  supervisors, freelancers, and independent contractors do not qualify as employees and cannot unionize.

For more information about forming a union, including ElectionBuddy’s own carpenters’ union voting guide, check out our resources and latest posts!

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